Saintly Rushers

The Vikings are in the midst of facing a couple of talented running backs with New Orleans ties, and both of them, along with Michael Bennett, could be elected to the Pro Bowl today … Plus, a glimpse at Vikings alumni and current Vikings' college allegiances come college bowl week.

The Vikings are facing a pair of New Orleans Saints — one current, one former — in back-to-back games. Last weekend, the Vikings tried to contain running back Deuce McAllister and were largely successful. On Saturday, the Vikings host the Miami Dolphins, who have resurrected their offense, thanks to the acquisition of Ricky Williams.

Both McAllister and Williams could finish the season leading their respective conferences in rushing. Both are virtual locks for the Pro Bowl in Honolulu.

"(McAllister) is a guy that I watched last year when Ricky (Williams) was down there," said Vikings running back Michael Bennett, who may be Honolulu-bound as well, as Pro Bowl voting gets announced today. "I watched him a little this year and he's a great back. You can't take anything from the guy. He can return punts, kickoffs, anything basically."

Just two weeks ago, Williams became the third rusher in NFL history to rush for more than 200 yards in consecutive games. He became the first since former Houston Oilers running back Earl Campbell accomplished that feat in 1980.

"People compare us a lot because we're both from Texas," Williams said. "The fact is, he had a great pro career, while before this year I had an average pro career. It's great to be mentioned with him."

Weight-loss plan
One of the reasons Williams has had such a successful season is he lost nearly 20 pounds since last season. Williams weighs 231 pounds and had a similar weight when he was playing for the Texas Longhorns. Incidentally, Williams' speed has increased as his mass decreased.

"The thing that continues to surprise me is the breakaway speed," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "You know he's going to make 3-yard and 4-yard runs, because he has been averaging 4 yards since he has been playing football. You knew he could catch the ball. But some of the big plays he has made are something nobody has seen, because he hadn't done that in the NFL."

The downside to Williams? He has fumbled six times this season. He fumbled eight times with the Saints last season.

Quarterback central
Three former Vikings starting quarterbacks will most likely be playoff-bound later this month. With just two games left in the regular season, Gannon, whom the Vikings acquired via a trade with New England in 1988, has guided the Raiders to the top of the AFC West Division. Brad Johnson, whom the Vikings drafted in the ninth round in the 1992 draft, is guiding the Buccaneers ship as they, too, are atop their division, the NFC South. Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler, who was with the Vikings briefly in the late 1990s, has missed several games because of injuries this season but is back as a starter for Miami.

Alumni games
The Iowa Hawkeyes lost no Big Ten games — their only loss all season was a non-conference setback to Iowa State — but still they have no chance of winning a national championship. Almost as unsettling for former Iowa running back Jeremy Allen, now a rookie on the Vikings practice squad, is that the Hawkeyes aren't even going to the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State, which also was undefeated in the Big Ten but didn't face Iowa this season, will play Miami for the national championship Jan. 3 at the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa will face Southern California … in the Orange Bowl? Oklahoma will play Washington State … in the Rose Bowl?

Only under the umbrella of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) formula could this happen. "The BCS thing isn't totally accurate and it's totally hurting the Hawkeyes right now," Allen said. "I don't think the BCS is the best representation to find the best team in the country. If we would have played Ohio State, we would be in the Fiesta Bowl. The BCS is to blame for that as much as the Big Ten not having a championship game."

Allen said the college football banter among Vikings teammates in the locker room reaches an apex this time of the year.

"You got Jack Brewer hyping Minnesota, and Lorenzo (White) and even coach (Steve) Loney from Iowa State. … Those are big rivals for Iowa," Allen said. "But you hear guys every week talking about where they went to school and what their schools are doing."

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